Staff SOLE lunch

Our staff enquiry group, who have volunteered to explore SOLE in more depth, met together for a lovely lunch the other day to talk about all things SOLEs.


It was great to hear from the staff about some of the things they have been noticing during their SOLEs experience.

Following this discussion we have agreed a few small enquiries

One teacher would like to look at year 9 English classes and compare the experience of learners using SOLE and those not using SOLE on the impact of spelling, punctuation and grammar in particular.

Another teacher would like to work with some year 7s in Geography through a particular topic and the impact SOLEs can make on those learners with some base line testing.

Other staff involved are finalising ideas.

Looking forward to working together to experiment.

Staff enquiry groups

This year we have a different group of staff voluntarily signed up to explore SOLEs and independent learning.

It was great to work with one of the teachers in that group last week as we experiment with SOLEs. One of our aims of the session was just to notice. The staff enquiry group are each running their own SOLE session this term and will take notice of things in order to find one small element they are particularly curious about which they can look at in more depth over time this year.

A year 10 group explored the question “Why is water wet?”


Something the teacher wondered might be interesting to look at would be the sites that they have used to research the question afterwards. Our fantastic IT man, James, joined us for that chat and will help us analyse this information after a few sessions in the future. We discussed the importance of what the students do with what they find on the Internet.

Each of the groups did their feedback.


1. We looked at the make up of water through scientific websites
We looked at different questions related to water.
We started with ‘What is water?’ And found out it is a compound and the earth is made up of 70% water.
Wetness is a description of our experience in such a way it impinges on our state being.
Scientists explored why we feel wetness at Loughborough Uni and if water is colder we feel wetness more. If our nerves are blocked we struggle to feel water. Nerves can be blocked if skin if hairy. Bare skin feels water better.

2. Water is not wet it’s only a description because of our contact with water and our brains. We used the same website. It’s about Perception.
Water is an element we need it to hydrate us. If we put our finger in oil we don’t feel wetness like we do with water. It’s about sensation.

3. Wetness is a description.
Warm water is not the same and it is not the same as milk or juice in a sensory way. It’s about the way we process information. It’s also about pressure and movement.

4. What is water? It is colourless. It is from the sea, river and rain. It’s the basic fluid for living. It feels wet because our hands are dry.

5. Water has particles. These can change. If they are solid particles they are more compact they can also lose shape. Water can be wet but can be a solid or a gas too. Do you get wet if you come into contact with steam? Or wet from ice?

Lots of interesting learning. It was clear at points that the groups in some cases had copy, paste and each repeat information from the same source. We asked how we could avoid this next time and get an even wider range of answers. They suggested they could move around more and share information and try not to just copy and paste but find other sources on the Internet.


The teacher has gone away with a new SOLE experience and some time to ponder before we meet for our SEG lunch to think about something about this experience that has made him curious. Watch this space….

SOLEs Youth Conference

Following the launch of SOLECentral on 10.11.14 both young people from Greenfield (The EngineHeads) and young people from George Stephenson (The Committee) both met together with Professor Mitra to talk all things SOLEs and teaching & learning.

What a lovely day of sharing and learning at ILab at Newcastle University. The young people were all amazing. They all got on so well and were so articulate about complex concepts about SOLEs and its impact on learning. Very, very proud.

Sugata started by suggesting some of the areas we might cover in the conference that day including:
Who uses our School in the Cloud labs at both schools the most/least.?
Who likes using it, why and who doesn’t and why?

We wanted to explore these questions about the teachers and students as we are all learners. We were interested to hear the things we had in common as TED SOLE labs in the UK and things that are different too. Sugata explained that all the things we are learning from this experience and sharing are important and will go around the world for others to think about too.

Sugata explained from his view that SOLEs can be a big change for some teachers to understand you don’t ‘teach’ inside a SOLE. He explained some of the problems he is facing with teachers, with understanding, with governments and with technology that can sometimes let us down. Some of these technology problems are happening frequently in the Indian labs.

The Engine Heads and The Committee were given 10 minutes to talk about some of the issues Sugata raised and to think about their own labs. Immediately they fixed up one of the computers and all gathered round it to collaborate, show each other stuff and talk.


Loads of interesting things came out of the discussions. I took notes throughout the day and wrote down direct quotes but may be paraphrasing some of the discussion as the debate was fast and furious and I may have missed something.

The group discussed who used the space and who liked it.
The students thought that year 7 and 8 like to use the lab more. One student thought that some teachers don’t seem comfortable enough yet to use SOLEs but some are a lot more used to it now.

“They are getting adapted to it more, being more free with their questions”

“Depends on the teacher as to the type of question you get in a SOLE, some who are comfortable ask really good questions others ask ones more about topics.”

Both schools explained that lots of students and teachers use the space including primary schools, holiday groups and other schools across the region as well as new friends who have visit from across the globe.

Sugata asked “How do you go about making a good question?”
“How would you ask a question about gum health for example. How would we do it?”

One student said that it helps when it is a question with many possibilities and answers to it. Another student suggested the question “How do animals keep their teeth clean? ”


Sugata explained that one way to explore gum health could be to ask the primary school group does anyone have a shaking tooth? Are you born with teeth? So then what happens? So if you grow teeth then what happens? If teeth then stop growing and they fall off why do they grow back? Well if they grow back do they last forever? If not forever and my grandma has none after decades why do they not grow back a second time? This will hopefully create a curiosity and the students will do a SOLE and might find out about milk teeth and why we have them and why our gums need to be strong and may get to gum health…? It’s good to try and think of the right type questions for the right types of ages to make them curious.

The young people explored questions a bit further and thought about the types of questions and subjects you can apply this.


Sugata asked “How good are SOLEs for maths?”
One student suggested that it is hard in maths to do a SOLE as often there is one fixed answer. He suggested that SOLEs works better when a range of answers are possible and you can collaborate to get the best description. Such as ‘how does money relate to happiness?’

Sugata explored this further with the group and suggested that SOLEs can be useful for helping to question the need for arithmetic for example.

This made one student say “Maybe you could explore the foundation of Maths and English not just the answers?”

Sugata – “Yes, you could approach it from different angle. Experiment with it, explore the story rather than just the ‘doing’. Rather than solving it, what if it’s more important to understand what an equation is and how it works for example?”

Student – “SOLEs can work well in lots of subjects like history for example. We did a question about who shot JFK and there were lots of answers as there’s not one definite answer and in geography you could do something about population for example”

Student ” I think SOLEs can be a lesson in itself and general questions are good rather than specific ones just to a subject. If you didn’t have subjects a SOLE crosss all subjects. It’s how you make the question that is important”

Sugata then talked about a GCSE question ‘what is an oxbow lake’.


Sugata asked “How long would it take you find out the answer on the Internet? 90 seconds? Why would that question be there now and why would it be important ? No guesses from you says it all….It was an important question in 19th century. You would sail out of country go up an unknown river and find an oxbow and know there’s no tides and know it’s safe place to park in unknown river. In 1810 you needed to know about Oxbows to park your boat- why is it there now? I’m trying to get this point of view across that it is left over from a different time.”

Sugata – “What would happen if you had the Internet in exams?”

One student suggested that people would just copy and paste and not necessarily learn.
Sugata wondered if you used the Internet in exams whether you would ask the same type of questions in exams…. What could you ask instead…?

One student suggested you could ask a question for more personal opinions. And then asked “But if you think people will just copy and paste then how can you learn in a SOLESs room if you are saying you will just copy and paste and not learn with the Internet?”

The student responded ” well in SOLE you use the Internet as a tool- it will help develop the understanding better”

Sugata added you can make the assumption that if they copy and paste they know the right things to copy and paste and there skills in working that out.
GCSE needs to change and include meta learning, judgment and personal opinion. How do you measure creativity and imagination too?

Student – “The way we learn should always adapt as the knowledge we need changes”

Sugata added that sometimes SOLEs can feel slow compared to ‘traditional’ teaching as its not someone at a board telling you what the answer is which can seem quicker. SOLEs can feel slow.

The group continued to explore other areas of SOLEs including the role of the granny. We were also very lucky to be able to hear from Cathy Ellis in her role and also Anne Preston and the digital kitchen.


Thank you to everyone for sharing their thoughts and experiences. It was so useful to hear, with honesty, how the young people who are helping lead this learning feel about SOLEs and the difference it can make. Was a pleasure to work together.

Soles Central

Monday 10th November was the launch of Newcastle Universities “SOLE Central”

This is an additional resource, research and information point for SOLES and the School in the Cloud Project.

It was great to hear from Sugata about the SOLEs journey since The Hole in the Wall experiment in 1999


Suneeta Skyped in to talk about the granny cloud and cleverly manoeuvred herself around the stage and the room through a fancy technological portal!


And our Head, David, did a fantastic job as he spoke to the room about the power of questioning and deeper learning.


Challenging assumptions

I was delighted to be asked to facilitate sessions at Northallerton and Catterick Federation (federation of 2 schools and a college) which took place last week. Can I firstly say it was a well organised day full of opportunity for rich discussion and reflection about learning. Well done to the organisers. (I was well looked after and the cake was amazing too!) Particular thanks to the “SOLE sisters” Rachel and Sally. (We made badges for them especially to prove it!)


The day started with an old lecturer of mine, David Leat from Newcastle University and his keynote speech. He set the tone for the day and began to explore notions about developing independent learners through teaching and learning.


I was struck by the quote he used from Kenneth Gergen
“We are social animals, we become human through others” and the importance of interdependence in order to be independent. Something that is present in much of the work we do at Greenfield but seems particularly present in SOLEs.

I worked with 2 groups of staff from across the federation who had volunteered for the session. We were exploring SOLEs, sharing the context in which we are developing the work at Greenfield, the principles of SOLEs and discussion about how it works in practice with space to share fears, concerns, assumptions or experiences of the group.


After a brief introduction, a look at our Room 13 video ( and the principles of SOLE, we set the self organised groups a question.

To the first group we asked “does everything have a taste?”

The richness, breadth and depth of answers were fascinating and helped to highlight the potential of SOLEs for the learners. It was great to give the staff chance to experience SOLE first hand and to consider the process.

This is just a flavour of what came up in the SOLE:

“Does everything have a taste?”

Don’t have a conclusion -taste is subjective – brain determines taste , it is related to smell
Definition dictionary- lots of ways to consider taste
Personal taste
Taste of life
Perceptions can be based on an experience or others view points

Yes- we questioned it physically. It can be subjective
Taste in fashion what is good and therefore means there can be bad taste. Who decides this? How do we get trends? Who are the trendsetters?
Media present tastes – Trending Twitter
Could explore an educational social experiment – Put some green dots on people how far can you take that social experiment!


We explored one definition of taste to focus on
Looked at all of definitions first
Personal taste has a physical effect

Other questions
If you don’t have smell your taste can be affected, perceptions, chemical reactions. Flavour is distinctive from taste
Although they are linked. Connected to survival instincts
Energy, acids, toxins, amino acids linked together to make flavour
You can have flavour with taste but smell can affect taste
Why do babies put things in their mouth – survival rather than enjoyment

Do animals have taste? cats can’t taste sweet things
Humans can not taste pure water only with additives, taste buds not developed enough. We are affected by other things that can inhibit our survival mechanisms food chemicals affect brain


Yes everything does have a taste
We have flavour sensitivity
Psychological- it’s how it’s presented
80% taste is what you smell
Bitter salty sour sweet
High taste = high smell- closely linked
If saliva not there and there is dry mouth not as effective with taste it’s not just taste buds that taste
Air doesn’t have a taste or does it? are we used to it?
We take others experiences on board in our own perceptions
Overweight people can taste things differently – Taste cells respond differently to sweetness

We thought that Kim Kardashian had no taste but we just realised it was bad taste! There is aesthetic and sensory taste.
It seems to us to be an inconclusive argument. Like if a tree falls in an empty place would anyone hear it? You need a brain to interpret taste.

So many amazing discoveries with this question and so much debate about the SOLE process and the learning generated by this.

The second group explored ‘why do bees buzz?’

Some questioned the question and said it was too restrictive, some said they had finished part way through the session and couldn’t find anything else out. Some were concerned about student behaviour in a SOLE session and others couldn’t see how it could work for them.
It was interesting to discuss these things and gently challenge some of the concerns at the end of the session as the breadth, depth and variety of answers to be question was genuinely astonishing. I learnt so many things I didn’t know (and was even more surprised as I have once asked the same question with another group).

There were fears that children with lower reading ages would not cope. There were questions about who this would work with and some felt only a top set group would carry out a ‘successful’ SOLE

We had a great deal of debate and discussion around these points and many others at the end of each session.

This reminded me, which is something I shared with both groups, that one of the most powerful things SOLEs does in my opinion (demonstrated a great deal this day) is it creates real space and time for teachers to question their assumptions. By not being an active part of the session in the ‘traditional’ sense but in sitting alongside it observing and noticing, we are able to articulate and question many assumptions that have developed over time that can be small, hidden or very subtle. Noticing these and challenging them in some way can bring about real change. I think this is powerful and can really change the shape of teaching and learning, helping us generate what we all hope for- independent, engaged and curious learners.

What lovely staff, what great debate and what wonderful learning. Thank you.

“SOLE sisters!”

Really looking forward to working with the wonderful Rachel and Sally alongside their colleagues at the North Allerton and Catterick Federation Conference this week at Allertonshire School.

The theme of the Conference is ‘Independent Learning’ and the workshops are based on a wide range of ways to encourage independence and resilience amongst young people. The Federation are exploring the question:

How can we work together for the benefit of young people in the federation to enable them to become confident, independent learners?

I have been invited to share our experience of SOLEs, how we developed the work here at Greenfield and how in my role I support and encourage staff to use SOLEs and the principles of Professor Sugata Mitra’s methods so that colleagues at the conference can consider this in their own context.

Thrilled to be invited and delighted to be working with the self named “SOLE sisters”, Rachel and Sally. Sally has been thinking of a range of great questions to use with the staff as they explore a SOLE session themselves through their own experience. I will guide them through the context, our experience and the principles of Sugata’s SOLE method so that after their feedback and answers we can reflect on their session and discuss any questions or reservations they may have. I will try to follow the same type of format that our fantastic EngineHeads carried out during a recent staff SOLE session at Greenfield. I can’t guarantee to be as good as they were!

This is the first of a series of conferences this season which we have been invited to attend and share our learning. Looking forward to it!